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Evanston — location is everything

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EVANSTON — The heat rises visibly off the pavement as the clerks at Porter's look glumly out at a parking lot that oughta be considerably more congested.

There are seven cars right now, at 1:30 in the afternoon. Five of them with Utah plates and two from Wyoming. The ratio is about right. Porter's has always been a favorite of residents from the state across the border.

But seven cars! On the weekend before the Fourth?

Porter's sells fireworks on one side and liquor on the other. Three miles from the Utah-Wyoming line, and barely 80 miles from the heart of Salt Lake City and the Wasatch Front, it is the first business on the westernmost side of the state of Wyoming, claiming that distinction by just a few hundred feet from "Homesmart Homes," a place to the east that sells double-wide trailers.

Location. Location. Location. Porter's has it, and has stayed in business for 50 years now precisely because it is in prime position to offer two commodities you just cannot purchase in Utah: 5 percent beer and big, bad fireworks.

This year, here in Utah we're giving new definition to the term "dry state." In the wake of two uncommonly mild winters followed by an uncommonly dry spring, the water situation is precarious and the mountains and valleys are turning into kindling patches. Many cities and counties have banned fireworks outright in general and for the July holidays — the Fourth and 24th — specifically.

That's a ban on legal fireworks. That makes the kind you can get in Wyoming — the Roman candles, the Black Cat firecrackers, the artillery shells, the smoking parachutes, the magic whips, the cherry bombs — doubly illegal.

So the ante has been raised, and the people at Porter's, as well as at Phantom Fireworks just up the road and Fireworks Outlet next door to that and dozens more fireworks stores along the western freeway exits of Wyoming, are feeling it. The stores are offering two-for-one specials — buy any explosive device, get a second explosive device of equal or lesser value absolutely free.

But not everyone is staying away. Not by a long shot. For some, the lure of fireworks, legal or not, bone-cracking dry summer or not, is just too strong not to make the run to Evanston the first weekend of July.

In the wide aisles of the gleaming new Phantom Fireworks store, I watch a family of five walk past the cones, spinners, rockets, missiles, aerial displays and glass cases brimming with firecrackers in a state of awe. They're like pyros in a fireworks store. They listen intently as a Wyoming schoolboy clerk wearing a 3-inch belt buckle tells them about all the bells and whistles — in this case literally — of a particularly hot-seller called the Merlin. Next he tells them the features of the granddaddy of the place, the Goliath, a spectacular package complete with 36 shells and its own PVC pipe launcher for $149.95. Fire department not included.

Moments later, in the parking lot, I see the family of five open the trunk of their white Pontiac Grand Prix and carefully drop in their purchases, including several small sacks and one Merlin and one Goliath.

They slam the trunk, turn the ignition and hightail it west for the border, the Utah border, which, judging from their Utah license plate — with a Davis County tag — is where they live.

Just thought you might appreciate the heads-up.

Lee Benson's column runs Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Please send e-mail to benson@desnews.com and faxes to 801-237-2527.